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100 years on, Old Pelion Hut retains its charm

19/09/2017

One of Tasmania's favourite historic mountain huts, Old Pelion Hut in the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, is celebrating its centenary this year.More

Future-proofing our tourism icons

18/09/2017

Environment and Parks Minister Matthew Groom has announced that $8 million will be allocated to upgrade vital infrastructure in our parks and reserves over the next two years.More

Tenders advertised for Freycinet Master Plan

28/08/2017

Freycinet is one of the absolute jewels in Tasmania's crown, with locals and visitors flocking to the area in droves to experience one of the world's most stunning areas.
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Sperm Whale

Sperm Whale stranding at Ocean Beach
Sperm Whales are the largest of the toothed whales and generally live in family groups. As with all toothed whales they have a single blowhole. In the Sperm Whale the blowhole is on the left hand side of the dorsal surface, which makes their blow distinctive as it is angled forward and slightly to the left. Males are larger than females and can reach sizes of up to 18m and 50 tonnes. Adult males can occur in groups of up to a dozen (bachelor pods), singly or as part of a harem pod which contains breeding females and juveniles. The tail fluke, which is very triangular in shape with scalloped edges and often lighter patterned underneath, is used in identification. The tail is often exposed prior to diving which can last for up to 90 minutes. They have a large block shaped head with teeth on the tiny lower jaw and the mouth is often bright white inside. They lack a true dorsal fin (being small and rounded) but rather have a series of humps along their tail stock which are more prominent in the female. Their skin is prune like. They are most often seen off the west or north coast of Tasmania as they move south just prior to or during summer or north in winter.

General Information

Sperm Whales are an open-ocean species that feed on squid and often bear the scars from their encounters. They are co-operative feeders and protectors of the pod and especially of juveniles. Females live in nursery pods made up of related individuals. They are much smaller than the males reaching about 11m in length and 15 tonnes in weight. Once males reach maturity they are chased out of the pod both to prevent inbreeding and to maximise feeding success.

They use echolocation to find their food and a series of loud clicks can be heard when they are hunting prey. Infants are communally fed and protected by other pod members whilst their mothers are on long dives. They feed off the continental shelf but may come close to shore when following their prey. They reach sexual maturity at around 13 years of age in females and 18 years in males and can live into their sixties.

Stranding Information

Distribution map of sightings and strandings (click to enlarge) 
Sperm Whales are the second most common mass strander in Tasmania. Strandings generally occur on our north or west coast. Often single male Sperm Whales strand but there have been at least 20 recordings of nursery pods stranding (matriarchal pods). When matriarchal pods strand, all members come to the aid of others and end up in the same dire situation. The outcome is usually bleak based on the size of the animals and often the location and weather. It is believed strong winds can play a role. When bachelor pods strand it may be possible to rescue some individuals depending on weather, tides, location and if the animals are actually stranded or just grounded in shallow water. If grounded with favourable tides, they can sometimes be manipulated back into deeper water using nets and other gear. Males seem to lack the intensely close bonds of matriarchal pods where females will not leave stricken members.

Tasmania has one of the best success rates in the world of successfully refloating grounded male Sperm Whales. In many cases rescue is not possible due to the location and weather conditions and sheer size of the whales. In these cases palliative care or euthanasia are the only options. Sperm Whales can be grounded several kilometres offshore if the beach is flat-sloping and may appear stationary to the observer. By the time experts are informed often many have drowned. Sperm whales are not familiar with coast lines as they are an oceanic species and often get caught out when they come close to the shoreline chasing prey. Some coastlines act as natural "whale traps" for oceanic species such as Sperm Whales which use echolocation to find prey and orientate themselves.